Yanks see a lot of Volpe in latest callup Ben Rice

June 19th, 2024

NEW YORK – When jogs to first base at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday evening, tossing warmup grounders to at shortstop, the scout credited with beginning both players on their respective professional journeys will have a palpable sense of pride.

Upon learning of his big league callup late on Monday, one of Rice’s first calls was to Matt Hyde, the Yankees' area scout who tracked him while at Dartmouth. Scouting a Cape Cod League game in Chatham, Mass., as he answered the call, Hyde would soon be in the car on his way to the Bronx. He couldn’t miss a chance to see Rice and Volpe together in The Show.

“They both have a great desire to improve; they both don’t think that they’ve arrived,” Hyde said. “They both think that they can get better, and they’re also both very good at self-assessing themselves, which I think are great qualities. They’re both great competitors, they want to win and that’s what really makes both of those guys Yankees in my book.”

Much like Volpe wowed team personnel at every stop in the system, the Yankees believed they have something special in Rice, the club’s No. 12 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. That was true long before Rice developed into the power-hitting prospect who will have a chance to replace the injured Anthony Rizzo at first base.

Selected in the 12th round of the 2021 MLB Draft, Rice first impressed the organization by what he did when he couldn’t play. Limited to just 30 collegiate games in three years, Rice adapted when the COVID-19 pandemic truncated the 2020 season and canceled the ’21 Ivy League campaign.

“It was this All-American-looking kid who had big left-handed, raw power and was at a premium position as a catcher, with makeup,” Hyde said. “He didn’t have two college seasons, and he helped organize a league that played at the New England Baseball Complex in Northborough, Mass., doing workouts on their own where they did simulated at-bats.

“There was a lot of initiative that went into that, and Ben was leading it. He really was able to show us a lot when so many things were shut down.”

Hyde added that Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees’ vice president of domestic amateur scouting, also played a key role in recruiting Rice -- likely seeing Rice in person more than any other scouting director.

“The great thing about our scouting department is, we have a lot of great guys who give us a chance to get thorough evaluations on players. It’s not just one person,” Hyde said. “Damon spent a ton of time around Volpe and Ben Rice. I saw them a lot, but he did, too. There’s great pride in our whole scouting department when something like this happens, that we’re able to contribute when a veteran player goes down. We can help plug a hole and bring someone up who is quality.”

Hyde said that though the Yankees scouted Rice as a catcher, it was easy to see a possible transition to first base down the line, noting his size (6-foot-1, 215 pounds) and good hands. Hyde said that Rice has grown markedly stronger and improved defensively at both positions during his time in the pro ball, efforts that played a huge part in his promotion to the big leagues.

“He’s not only a leader, but he absolutely loves the game,” Hyde said. “He loves to be at the field, loves to put in the work. Those are the intangibles that we’re looking for. Sometimes they’re very hard to uncover and find, but [with Rice], we were able to see that out of him.”